Taylor Swift is hitting the stands again. Now, however, it’s not because she has a new boyfriend or because another celebrity criticized her group of friends but because she was on trial. Swift was sued by former DJ David Mueller, who accused her of fabricating her account of him sexually assaulting her in 2013, which ended his career. He asked for $3 million in retaliation, but Swift countersued Mueller for sexual assault, asking for a symbolic $1 in hopes that the trial would encourage women to come forward and face their assaulters.
While Swift’s trial should not be widely publicized, primarily because it’s a deeply personal matter, it shines light on the stigma faced when people admit a sexual assault and see justice, especially when the victim is a woman. Moreover, it also relates to the other headlines that are hitting the stands in the past weeks: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her promised reforms for sexual assault reports on university campuses.
Swift is right. Victims of sexual assault should feel safe coming forward. According to a Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network statistics report women who are between 18 and 24 years old and are going to school are three times more likely than all women to suffer sexual assault, but only 20 percent of the victims from this demographic report the assaults to law enforcement. Also 12 percent of the 80 percent of college female students, who decided not to report their assault, told RAINN they did not do so because they believed their assault was not important enough to report.
This belief would be further perpetrated by the reform DeVos supports. The Obama administration’s guidelines for reporting such crimes on-campus, while not perfect, push colleges to put in more effort in researching sexual assault reports. However, victims, campus administrators and defendants have voiced contrasting criticism of the guidelines. According to the LA Times, DeVos sided with campus administrators who mostly want to preserve their universities’ statuses and think the measures force them to “take sides” even if the “facts are unclear” and with defendants who claim that false accusations have ruined their lives. Victims, on the other hand, often complain about the immense paperwork and consequential trauma they must relive in order to report their assault or rape, which already discourages many victims, but their concerns are, apparently, marginalized by DeVos.
DeVos’s reform — which, according to her, is supposed to ease the aggression the Obama guidelines require — frightens many organizations and victims who fear the process might become even more traumatizing and arduous that it already is. While the Obama administration’s measures are awed, a step back from it would not be beneficial to the victims who already face criticism for seeking justice, even when they are world-famous superstars like Taylor Swift.
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A version of this appeared in the Tuesday, Sep. 5 print edition. Email Cara Zambrano at [email protected]